Young Alumni Spotlight — Kristi Gaudio, Industrial Design ‘13

Tell me about yourself. Describe your professional background.

I am an Industrial Design graduate of the class of 2013. I started working for Marchon Eyewear, a division of VSP Global one week after graduation as an eyewear design intern. Now, I work in the VSP Global innovation lab, The Shop, focusing on wearable technology and alternative manufacturing. We have done projects with Google Glass and Diane Von Furstenberg, and are now working on developing our own wearable technology, called Project Genesis, with more of a fashionable aesthetic and beneficial functionality.

Why did you choose Philadelphia University for your college education?

I had been looking at a bunch of colleges for either engineering or graphic design when one of my high school teachers told me about Industrial Design and specifically PhilaU! It was exactly what I was looking for, but never knew that it even existed.

Out of all the schools that I looked at, PhilaU was by far the one that felt most like some place I could call home. The campus was welcoming and the studio was lively. The industrial design program leaned toward the engineering mindset and designing for manufacturing. Since I had almost gone the engineering route to begin with, this was a bonus for me. It’s been 6 years since I’ve made that decision, and I would still make the same one today.

Why and how did you choose your career path?

Senior year, I went to Design Expo and networked like crazy. There was an employer without anyone interviewing so I decided to introduce myself and find out more about the company that she was representing. A few weeks later, I was interning as a fashion eyewear designer at Marchon working with major brands like Michael Kors, Nike, DVF, and Calvin Klein, among others. After a few months of interning at Marchon, I was moved into the parent company’s innovation lab, The Shop, to work on a special project with Google Glass and Diane Von Furstenberg. And for the past two years, I’ve had the privilege to work on even more cutting-edge innovation projects as an industrial designer.

For you, what was the most valuable part of your PhilaU education?  Did your PhilaU education influence your career path?

The most valuable part of my PhilaU education was the interdisciplinary collaboration. I work with electrical, software, biomedical, and mechanical engineers on a regular basis as well as all sorts of business minded people. PhilaU gave me the ability to navigate those conversations and relationships in a way that helps us understand each other’s intentions and ideas in order to come to the best possible solution.

Tell me about any special recognition that you have received and any organizations or networks that you are involved with.

At such an early stage in my career, one of the most rewarding achievements is simply getting to see my direct work with VSP’s innovation lab getting discussed on national TV and highlighted as a breakthrough in major news outlets like Engadget, MIT Technology Review and Fortune Magazine. 

Tell me about any challenges you’ve faced in your career and how you overcame them.

Working for an innovation lab means lots of ambiguity. There have been times when there is no solid direction coming from higher up, and as designers, we are given so much freedom that we aren’t even sure what to do with it. It can be frustrating, but at the same time, it is usually in those directionless moments when we find what we really want to be working towards. The things that matter to us are the ones that come up when no one is telling us that we have to do it. In situations like this, it is so important to be self-motivated especially because at The Shop we are encouraged to explore new ideas and experiment with things that we believe in.

Tell me about the most rewarding/interesting part of your career.

The best part of my career is seeing the blend of everyone’s abilities to make something none of us could make on our own. Sure, an industrial designer could make a pair of glasses on their own, and we do it all the time with our fashion brands, but it wouldn’t do anything more than correct your vision. To make the kind of impactful object that we are working to create, it takes the hands of a variety of talented people. The rewarding part is being able to learn a little bit from each person.

What are the guiding principles that you feel have helped you succeed in your career?

The guiding principles that helped me succeed are: Don’t be shy. Be curious. Speak up. Keep learning new things. Complacency is deadly.  And of course – “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Tell me a little about your life outside of work.  How do you balance work and life?

My job can be pretty relaxed, so any extra hours I work are usually only because I am so into what I’m doing that I don’t want to lose momentum. I moved to NYC a year ago and have just been enjoying the experience. I even joined a recreational bowling league with two other PhilaU alumni who live in the city!

If you could pass along a lesson to current PhilaU students and recent grads, what would it be?

Current students: Participate in interdisciplinary projects as if they are the real world. Don’t let one person carry the team – learn from each other.  Communicate and work in a way that is best for the end product, not just for your portfolio. Employers want to see that you can utilize the knowledge and abilities of others to make your visions a reality. 

Recent grads: Don’t let anything discourage you from following through on your dreams. Take risks. Freelance. Intern even if you are 3 years out of college if that’s what it takes to get some experience under your belt. In the long run it will be worth it because you will be doing what you love.